At least they’re reading. . .

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My boys actually love to read. They both read for pleasure and talk enthusiastically about their favourite authors. I’m very grateful for this. So I probably shouldn’t moan, but . . . some of the stuff they read is abysmal.
They own a lot of books, of course. They read lots of fact books and lots of novels. They have Roald Dahl, Michael Morpuergo, C. S. Lewis and Dick King Smith: all perfectly reasonable. I have managed to get Eldest to try a few of my old favourites: The Prisoner of Zenda, Around the World in Eighty Days and Treasure Island.
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But, other people buy them books too. So they have some Enid Blyton, some Cressida Creswell, even a few TV tie-ins.
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Some of the nonfiction they’re given is a little strange too!
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But, the really worrying stuff starts once  we go to the library.
I won’t allow them to take books from the adult or the ‘teenage’ sections (you have to leave something to look forward to). So I hadn’t expected quite the problems we’ve had.
Why on earth are there so many disgusting books around for children?
I took the boys to the library today and this is one of the books that Middly chose:
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Really? Did the world ever need a book called Fleabag Monkeyface?
I have two concerns about books like this.
Firstly, there’s the teaching potential. Are these books going to teach my boys crude language or bad behaviour?
Alright, to be fair, my boys know a lot about bad language already. That isn’t my biggest concern. Though, I think it is a concern for most parents!
Secondly, there’s the normalising effect. Seeing one another behave badly makes bad behaviour seem ‘normal’, which encourages similar behaviour. What if reading rude words and unpleasant behaviour makes that seem normal and encourages more of that?
We don’t need any encouragement to behave rudely in this house.
I am very aware of an attitude towards children – and, it seems to me, especially towards boys – that it doesn’t matter what they read ‘as long as they’re reading’. Personally, I cannot agree. There are only so many hours of reading, why encourage anyone, however young, to waste those hours on reading rubbish?
It does take an effort to read some books. I want the boys to be willing to make an effort for good writing.
I think it’s insulting and patronising to suggest that boys need to be tempted into reading by copious mention of bodily fluids. Boys are perfectly capable of enjoying adventure stories and making up their own gags about poo. As a grownup and a mummy, I feel it is my role to tut at the dramatic burping, not to join in. Eldest likes to giggle whenever he reads ‘but’ (because it sounds like ‘butt’), which is up to him. I don’t want a book to join in. If the grownups refuse to be grownups, where is the space for the boys to be boys?
I will admit that I’m a bit of a book snob. I’m not proud of it, and I don’t want to pass this trait on to the boys, which is why I let him take it out.
All my mum had to worry about was Enid Blyton and whether the books that I chose were ‘challenging’ enough. Bah!
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6 thoughts on “At least they’re reading. . .

  1. I remember this issue coming up when I did my OU course in Children’s Literature – there was a quote which I can’t fully remember (and the textbooks are in the loft so can’t check!) that children need to read a fair amount of trash so that, as they grow, they can discern what is truly decent writing. I know I used to read some (in hindsight) utterly dreadful romantic fiction when I was younger – but then I discovered Austen and Shakespeare and the ‘trash’ was abandoned. Although I can see why “boys” fiction is more of a challenge as it does seem to be dominated by toilet humour and general rudeness. I’m sure your boys will learn what is worth spending their time reading as they grow up!

  2. OMG now I don’t feel so mean or the odd one out. I completely understand where you are coming from.
    I really struggle with the book content issue too.
    Beeswax is an avid reader and reads at a higher level than his teenage peers but his maturity level is at the level of an 8 year old. I cringe quite often with content of his books. However my big issue is Buzzbee. He is 8 and loves books but is terrified to try and read properly (fear of failure/needs to be perfect). We have been often told give him books that will appeal to boys to kickstart his reading. I find these books inappropriate and usually results in the opposite to the desire goal – they send him into a dysregulated orbit of rude/gross silliness. Thank heavens he currently prefers to scan (possibly attempting silent reading) nonfiction fact books.

    • Hooray! Lovely to find someone else who feels the same.
      I think nonfiction is great for reluctant and beginning readers, you can get some knowledge out of a single sentence, or just one word on a diagram. It rewards very quickly.
      But I remember my mum telling me when I was younger that just because I could read something didn’t mean that I should. I find it hard to keep Eldest away from books with teenage themes that he isn’t ready for. So, I feel your pain with Beeswax. A book’s suitability depends as much on subject matter as language level.
      Good luck!

  3. Our son is also a reluctant reader. He flirted briefly with the Beastquest books. So we rushed out and bought loads of them. Which lay unread in his room until we sold them on. He flicks though books like the Horrible History series. But does he enjoy them? Does he learn anything useful? I doubt it. When I was his age I read the Waterbabies, Swallows and Amazons, factual books about archeology and astronomy. It gave me a broad palette to choose from. I quickly decided I preferred science and science fiction. Then I discovered Arthur C Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Wells… I always say it’s not the child, it’s the author. Find one you love and off you go! I agree about the books which favour excessive mentions of bodily functions. It’s demeaning to the child (usually a boy!) who is expected to read it. They’re not challenging enough.

    • I think you’re right. Books without depth are unlikely to inspire a lifelong love of reading. I want more for my boys than just the mechanics of deciphering words. I want them to see the world through another’s eyes.
      Of course, people do have different tastes. My first love were boys own adventures, yours science fiction. It will be wonderful when we find the books that really light up for our boys in their turn.
      Hopefully your son got the message of love and encouragement from that pile of Beastquest, even if he didn’t read them all!

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